Defining Bullying - National Bullying Awareness Month

October 27, 2015
contributed by Susan E. Yoder
boys bullying girl

“It’s not bullying unless he’s black or gay.” Shocking? Speechless?

This phrase was uttered by a parent to a camp director as he was describing the bullying behaviors of their child at camp. The camp attempted frequent coaching of the camper, to no avail. As a last resort, the director spoke to the parents to try to correct the behavior or send the camper home. The director was not speechless for long, and ultimately the camper and his parents left camp. The camp returned to its former atmosphere of respect, support, and fun. But what of the child who went home?

The American Camp Association® works closely with many organizations to provide camps with the knowledge, training, and resources they need to create caring camp communities that promote positive interactions and deter bullying behaviors. But what is “bullying?” The parent in this scenario had one idea. Others believe that any interaction that hurts another’s feelings is bullying. Some believe society has gone too far in promoting anti-bullying and think that today’s kids have little ability to cope with any form of negativity. Still others have witnessed the life altering (and sometimes life-ending) results of aggressive bullying and advocate for more anti-bullying education and awareness. It’s a challenging issue that many are trying to tackle. In fact, this October has been National Bullying Awareness Month.

Why is this issue so challenging?  Because people are different. We define bullying behaviors along a vast and varied spectrum. What one considers joking, another considers bullying, and others consider verbal abuse. There is no shared agreement about just what “behaviors” we are trying to stem with anti-bullying advocacy. Unless it is at the farthest end of the spectrum, it’s a murky shade of grey.  In 2014, the federal government released its own definition of bullying:  “. . .any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. “ 1 Many advocacy programs now work from this definition. I imagine anyone who has been bullied by a “current dating partner” would find this deeply disappointing. Personally, I find it lacking. In my opinion, there are so many others that hit the nail on the head. Find some here on the ACA Anti-Bullying Resources web page.

What about you? What is your definition of bullying? While October is National Bullying Awareness Month, what can we do as a camp community to bring awareness year round? 

1 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Education, 2014